The Hills Have Eyes

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Synopsis

THE LUCKY ONES DIED FIRST…

Horror master Wes Craven achieved critical and commercial success with the likes of Scream and A Nightmare on Elm Street – but for many genre fans, the director’s seminal 1977 effort The Hills Have Eyes remains his masterpiece.

Taking an ill-advised detour en route to California, the Carter family soon run into trouble when their campervan breaks down in the middle of the desert. Stranded, the family find themselves at the mercy of a group of monstrous cannibals lurking in the surrounding hills. With their lives under threat, the Carters have no choice but to fight back by any means necessary.

Following on from his notorious 1972 directorial debut The Last House on the Left, Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes stands alongside the likes of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Night of the Living Dead as one of the defining classics of American horror.

Picture 7/10

Arrow Video upgrades their previous Blu-ray edition for Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes, to 4K UHD, yet again presenting the film in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 2160p/24hz ultra high-definition encode is sourced from the same 4K restoration Arrow created for their Blu-ray edition, delivered it here on a triple-layer UHD disc with HDR10. No 1080p high-definition presentation has been included. The restoration comes from a scan of the best available elements, primarily two separate 35mm color reversal intermediates, both struck directly from the 16mm original A/B negatives, now lost.

Though some of the same limitations seen on Arrow's Blu-ray are still present here, mostly due to source materials, it came as a pleasant surprise to see that the 4K presentation still managed to offer a very noticeable upgrade. Thanks to the original 16mm film stock used during filming, and the fact the source for the restoration were 35mm blow-ups of those original materials, the film is grainy, and I mean really grainy. As good as Arrow's encode was on the Blu-ray there were still some problems around the rendering of the grain and that may have played somewhat into the limited details in a way, especially in the darker scenes. Grain is rendered a lot better here, and this seems to have led to some of the finer details looking a bit sharper as well, including those found in the landscapes, the costumes worn by the hill people, and even the camper setting. Grain can still look a little noisy in the daytime sky and such, and details are still not as sharp as what a newer film shot on 35mm would probably offer, but considering the source, how the film was shot, and just everything around it, this film probably looks better than it ever has before.

I'll admit to being thrown a little off by the use of HDR on the film. I was a little put off by how bright the daytime sequences ended up being, though I was impressed by the level of range present in every daytime shot, from the blue sky to the fine browns and greens shown in the landscape. This even carries into the shadows present in these scenes. This aspect probably also helps in getting more detail out of the image. The nighttime scenes are also still pretty dark, but I'd almost say these scenes look darker here compared to the Blu-ray. Range is limited during the film's many darker shots, though objects moving around through the dark manage to stick out a bit better, and there is one night time explosion that nicely illuminates the surroundings, even if the flames come off a bit too bright. On the whole, though, even if I found some aspects a bit much, the improved dynamic range does appear to help in rendering the sharper looking image we get in comparison to the Blu-ray.

And again, the restoration is really impressive. I can only imagine the condition of the materials but you'd never tell how bad they more than likely were based on this: getting past the heavy grain the image is shockingly clean. There are some colour fluctuations and pulses, and some minor marks creep in there, but at the end of the day it's not a big deal. This looks really good taking into account everything around the film and the source materials available. I wasn't expecting much of an improvement, but Arrow's 4K upgrade has really pulled off some wonders.

Screen grabs were added 11/28/2021

(All SDR screen grabs have been taken from the source disc and have been converted to JPG files. They are presented in full resolution and may not properly fit some monitors. While the screen grabs should offer a general idea of quality, they should not be used for reference purposes.)

Audio 7/10

I couldn't discern a difference between the DTS-HD MA 1.0 soundtrack here and the soundtrack on the old disc; dialogue can be a but muffled and there is some noticeable noise, but it's fine, clear enough to allow one to hear everything. The DTS-HD MA 7.1 surround presentation (with my speaker configuration still being 5.1.2) features a bit more range, though most of the audio still sounds to be focussed to the fronts. Music may have creeped to the rears, though I still felt it focussed more to the front three speakers. The surrounds really only seemed to come in with some ambient effects around the film's setting, or background noise, like a dog (or dogs) howling in the distance. I honestly didn't notice much else with the surrounds.

At the very least it all sounds sharp.

The disc also includes a 2.0 DTS-HD MA stereo soundtrack.

Extras 8/10

Arrow appears to have carried over everything from their previous Limited Edition Blu-ray:

In a little bit of overkill, though, Arrow includes three audio commentaries. The first is a new one featuring actors Michael Berryman, Janus Blythe, Susan Lanier, and Martin Speer. This was probably my favourite one of the three tracks as it has a real family vibe to it. The four just talk about their memories of the production, from being cast (only one of them seemed to be aware who Craven was, having seen Last House on the Left) to the rough conditions of shooting in the middle of the desert, recalling the toughest moments to shoot. There are also some great conversations about the sequel (the only movie they can recall where a dog has a flash back) and share their thoughts on the remake. There are a few funny asides as well (there’s talk of Supernatural and a dislike for HD televisions) but for the most part it offers a terrific firsthand account of the shoot from the cast’s perspective.

The second track appears to come from the original Anchor Bay DVD release, featuring director Wes Craven and producer Peter Locke. Like the cast track the two here tell stories about the difficult production, joking constantly about how naïve they were at the time, particularly in thinking that shooting in the middle of the desert would be a breeze (it was of course scorching hot during the day and unbelievably cold at night). But in this track they also give more details to the technical side of things, which also includes working around the limitations of their budget. It’s a funny track, if not as lively as the cast track. Still, it’s worth listening to.

The third one, a new track featuring academic Mikel J. Koven, is the more heady track, skipping over all of the fan stuff and looking at how folklore influences horror movies like The Hills Have Eyes, bringing up other films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, to highlight his point. The primary influence for this film (which Craven mentions in his commentary and the one documentary on this set) is the Sawney Bean legend, Bean being the head of a clan of cannibals that lived in Scotland. Koven goes in-depth into the legend, even reading passages from a book telling the story (with a ridiculously long title, as he points out). He also looks at themes within the film (nuclear tension, isolated rural America, etc.) and how these aspects can be found in other horror films of the time. I liked the idea behind the track and it’s not bad, though admittedly it can be a bit dry and feel a little too scripted, which works against it after the more loose cast and crew tracks that came before it.

Also carried over from the previous Anchor Bay Blu-ray is the 55-minute making-of documentary Looking Back on the Hills Have Eyes, which features interviews from members of the cast and crew, including Craven, Locke, Berryman, Blythe, Robert Houston, Susan Lanier, Dee Wallace, and director of photography Saarinen. It’s a very thorough overview of the production from inception to filming to release. Admittedly a lot of this information is covered in the two cast and crew commentaries, but the bonus is, of course, that we get conversations with Houston, Lanier, Wallace, and Saarinen, who were all missing from those tracks. It’s a standard talking heads documentary but an entertaining one.

Actor Martin Speer then gets his own interview segment with Family Business, and he shares his own stories about shooting the film, working with his stuntman, and how the film has aided his career (it hasn’t). It runs about 16-minutes and is a nice companion to everything else.

The Desert Session is another new interview, this time with composer Don Peake. His story about how he became involved is somewhat funny (he was in Craven’s meditation group of all things) and he explains how he was able to create the film’s interesting score, which both Locke and Craven strongly disliked (too nasty apparently). It’s a fun addition, running about 11-minutes.

Arrow then includes the alternate ending on its own (you also have the option to watch the film with this alternate ending). The order of events is changed though the film tries to put more of a positive spin to the ending. Arrow also includes about 19-minutes of outtakes, which look to be a mix of mistakes, alternate takes, and preparation work. The footage actually has sound (surprisingly) and is in decent condition (at least better than I would have expected.

The remaining features are made up of a the American and German theatrical trailers and 4 TV spots. There is also an image gallery of posters, lobby cards, and production photos.

This limited edition also includes a few other bonuses. Released in a sturdy slip case, the set comes with the [UHD disc in a black UHD case] (with reversible art featuring the original poster on the other side), a collection of post cards [that appear to be the same as the one's found in the previous Blu-ray edition], a fold out poster with Arrow’s new artwork on one side and one of the original posters on the other, and then a [36-page] booklet. The booklet contains two excellent essays, one on the film’s genre conventions by Brad Stevens, and the other a great take-down/love letter of The Hills Have Eyes 2 by Arrow’s senior producer Ewan Cant (I was amused by the mention that Cant once tried to buy a copy of the original film on VHS from a local blockbuster after the film had gone out of print, only to be turned down). Another great Arrow booklet.

The only difference I could see between this edition and the old Blu-ray is that the "original screenplay" is presented here as a gallery (white text over black) that you can step through using a remote, whereas the Blu-ray included a PDF file on the disc. This was probably a wise decision because, as of this writing, I'm having issues reading from the disc using the UHD drive on my PC.

UPDATE (November 27, 2021): I was finally able to open the disc on PC and I was surprised to see, in the root directory of the disc, that Arrow still included a PDF copy of the screenplay.

In all, it's still a nicely put together set of features, thoroughly covering the film's production while also adding an academic slant with the Koven track.

Closing

Much to my surprise, Arrow's 4K upgrade offers a clear improvement over their already impressive Blu-ray edition, rendering the film's heavy grain structure in a cleaner manner.

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Directed by: Wes Craven
Year: 1977
Time: 90 min.
 
Series: Arrow Video
Release Date: November 23 2021
MSRP: $59.95
 
4K UHD Blu-ray
1 Disc | UHD-100
1.78:1 ratio
English 1.0 DTS-HD MA Mono
English 2.0 DTS-HD MA Stereo
English 7.1 DTS-HD MA Surround
Subtitles: English
Region None
HDR: Dolby Vision
 
 6 postcards   Reversible fold-out poster   Limited edition 40-page booklet featuring writing on the film by critic Brad Stevens and a consideration of the Hills franchise by Arrow producer Ewan Cant, illustrated with original archive stills and posters   Audio commentary with actors Michael Berryman, Janus Blythe, Susan Lanier and Martin Speer   Brand-new audio commentary by Mikel J. Koven   Audio commentary with Wes Craven and Peter Locke   Looking Back on The Hills Have Eyes: making-of documentary featuring interviews with Wes Craven, Peter Locke, actors Michael Berryman, Dee Wallace, Janus Blythe, Robert Houston, Susan Lanier and director of photography Eric Saarinen   Family Business: Interview with actor Martin Speer   The Desert Sessions: an interview with composer Don Peake   Outtakes   Alternate ending   Trailers   TV spots   Image Gallery   Gallery presenting scans of the original screenplay   Original Screenplay (BD-ROM Content)